Occupation: Artist and Illustrator
Website: Lori Joy Smith
Biography: Lori is an artist and illustrator (and aspiring comic and children’s book author) living in Vancouver Canada. You can see her work on her website, where she also keeps a sporadic blog.
What do you do and how did you start?
I am an illustrator. I have published greeting cards and bookmarks. I have also designed logos, products and packaging for products. I am working on illustrating a children’s book and a comic.
In the Fall of 1999, I started making homemade watercolour cards and selling them at craft fairs and little shops around town. At one show, a lady came up to me and told me she thought I could get my cards published. She turned out to be a local illustrator, and we met up later and she helped me to get started. I had no clue about how to be an illustrator, how to get work, or how to approach an art director. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t crossed paths with her. She changed my life.
How old were you when you realized you wanted to do what you’re currently doing and when you actually began.
I knew very early that I wanted to be an artist. I just never knew how I was going to do it. I studied fine art at university, and came away skilled, but lost. The elitist attitudes about art confused me and I didn’t really feel like I fit into the “art world”.
I remember always loving illustrations in magazines before I even really considered it a path for me. I would buy magazines if I liked the artwork, and would study them over and over. It never occurred to me that this was something I could do. It wasn’t until I got the cheque for my first published card that I realized that making a living off my art was a possibility. I think that was definitely one of the happiest days of my life, I felt so full of possibility!
What jobs did you have before you went out on your own?
I have worked a lot in retail. I worked as an apartment building manager. I took odd jobs painting and cleaning apartments. I have worked at a bowling alley, at a camp site, as a private cook and as a gardener. One the best jobs I had was an internship at the National Gallery of Canada. It was great to get to see everything from behind the scenes and be able to get up close and personal with the art.
What steps did you take to create your own business?
I think the biggest step for me was creating my website. It has been such a great way to get my work out there and to meet other artists and illustrators.
Another big step for me was getting an agent. Everything I read had told me that every illustrator needed an agent. So I felt like I had won the lottery when he signed me up. I thought work would start pouring in. It turned out not to be the right road for me. I found myself losing my focus, and went along with things, just because I felt the pressure to be a profitable artist. I got away from what I love about doing art. I recently parted ways with him and feel like a huge weight has been lifted. I am excited to have control over my career now.
What kind of formal education, training or experience do you have that applies to what you do?
I have a BFA in Fine Arts and Art History.
How did you first begin to sell/market your work?
The first job I got was with Recycled Paper Greetings, designing greeting cards. They were a great company to work with. I learned a lot from them and got tons of experience. I stopped working with them in 2001, but one of the cards I did for them still brings me work!
The best thing I have done to market my work is creating my website. I can’t imagine what people did before the internet!
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? The most frustrating?
The most rewarding aspect of what I do is doing something, looking at it and thinking… “Wow! I did that!”
The most frustrating would have to be all the rejection! That is something you have to realize will be a constant in this type of career. Last year I put a lot of time and energy into a project that went belly up. It was devastating. You just have to keep going, and try not to take it personally.
Do you have any fears about what you do, and if so, how do you deal with them?
I have a lot of fears about financial security. About being able to support myself, having enough money to one day start a family and enough saved for when I am old and grey.
I just try to remind myself that it is these fears that keep most of the world staying in jobs they hate. I would much rather live with less, be happy and love what I am doing.
How do you deal with creative blocks?
I find when I am blocked it is because I am being lazy or depressed and that stops me from working. The more sad and depressed I get, the less work I do… and then the more sad I get. I just try to remind myself in those moments that I am usually much happier and healthier when I am working and getting things accomplished. (tho it’s usually the last thing I want to hear!)
What kind of work environment do you have?
I have 2 work spaces. I do my digital illustration on my computer at home. I also rent a studio where I do my painting, drawing and other stuff. I find I really need that separate creative space, to get away from the dirty dishes and dust bunnies! When I am in studio I am totally absorbed in my work, as opposed to when I am at my computer, where I am almost always distracted! The studio is in the same building I live in, so I am going back and forth all day. It is a nice balance.
Have you encountered any financial obstacles, and if so, how did you overcome them?
Financial obstacles are difficult. I have to admit, there have been days when I am tempted to go out and get a job at Starbuck’s or something, just for the regular pay cheque! I know deep down that my time is better spent being investing into what I love doing, rather than the regular pay cheque. Although I am working towards having both!
I recently heard an interview with comic artist Chester Brown. He was saying he has solely lived off of doing his comics since 1985, just by living simply. I find that really inspiring. I would like to live with less.
What is your definition of success?
On a basic level I think you are successful if you are jump out of bed first thing in the morning because you are so passionate and excited about what the day holds for you. But, I have to admit, it would make me feel pretty good to see a children’s book or comic published!
Who or what are your inspirations?
Lately, I am really inspired by the work of comic artists like; Chester Brown, Seth, Sarah Varon, Daniel Clowes, Julie Doucet, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine and Debbie Drechsler. There is so much great work being done in comics!! I just read “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, it knocked my socks off! It is brilliant and heart breaking.
I think I am most inspired by the potential of doing great work. That keeps me going.
Words of advice for those pursuing their creative goals.
If you want to be an artist or an illustrator you have to draw or paint every day! I remember my drawing teacher telling me this in university, I was horrified and thought… man, that’s a lot of drawing! Now, I couldn’t imagine not doing it.
If you want to be an artist, do art. The more you do, the better you will get… the better everything will get!